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  • Jamie Shannon

China - an introduction

I'm currently holed up in another sprawling and traffic congested Chinese city, Mianyang to be exact, after one hell of a ride from Lanzhou. My legs are thoroughly worn out from the endless mountains, my head is still spinning from the complete and utter madness that is this country and my eyes are just beginning to comprehend the amazing beauty and diversity of the landscapes and its people.

I should explain.

Having been here once before six years ago backpacking in Beijing and Shanghai, I felt ready for this huge country. I thought it would just be another territory to pass through on my way to South East Asia, and just like most other countries I have travelled through, it has completely surprised me, delighted me and captivated me in ways I couldn’t have perceived before venturing here for a second time. Indeed China is fast becoming the country that I have loved the most.

I realised it on the way here; waking up one morning just before the sun hit my tent, I couldn’t wait for the day to get started, couldn’t wait to see what crazy thing’s I’ll bear witness to or what generosity I’ll be handed. In short, my love for travelling by bicycle has been invigorated.

Before I arrived in Mianyang, I hadn’t seen another Westerner for nearly three weeks. I still haven’t seen one here and so the search continues. It’s been a strange and testing situation to find myself in. The constant staring on and off the bike makes me feel out of place and disconnected from my surroundings. The fact that I don’t understand a single word that is written or vocalised makes me feel somewhat helpless. The fact that I cannot communicate in any degree at all has been difficult beyond imagining but even though I can’t even get my message across using simple sign language that almost anyone would understand, I have still been helped out and offered places to stay and things to eat amongst other kind courtesies too.

Despite all these difficulties, the utter relentless use of the horn, the crazy and dangerous driving I’ve witnessed and the pollution, China is utterly captivating.

If I thought that backpacking through the two big cities got me close to China, I was wrong in so many ways. Travelling by bicycle in the western provinces has truly got me closer to the China that most of us don’t know. A world far removed from the western one China seems so desperate to emulate. A world so different and yet so strangely familiar at the same time it truly is a mystery and yet a fascinating mystery to unravel. As I begin to pack up my things in the morning, the wonder of what awaits me pushes me on and it’s never a disappointment nor are there many dull moments.

So what’s the cycling been like? I'll let you know.


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